Ghost Stories Around the Campfire: The Ghost of Print (Summer Camp for Law Firm Librarians #3)

Lauren Odom | August 26, 2020

The summer is beginning to wind down and our Law Firm Librarian Summer Camp series is coming to a close. What better way to end the summer than with one of camp's great traditions? Grab your snacks and your sweater, because it’s time to gather around the virtual campfire for a ghost story. This one is called “The Ghost of Print.”

To say 2020 has been a year of disruption is an understatement, but one thing has become increasingly clear: print is dead. Print cancellation is among the hottest topics of discussion in 2020, and as talk turns into action, there are many things to consider when developing and executing your cancellation plan. The ghost of print can appear when you least expect it, perhaps popping up as an invoice line or as a lingering feeling that a certain title must remain in its physical form, as it might hold the answer to that “once in a blue moon” research request. Cancelling print is easier said than done and if even with the best laid plan, you might find your library haunted by the ghost of print.

Here are some considerations as you move forward with your print cancellation plan:

  • Building a case for cancellation. This pre-cancellation step is important to setting the foundation and building the narrative around the collection revisions. What is the ultimate goal for the cancellations? Saving money- or/reallocating the collection budget, compliance with updated firm safety policies (i.e., limiting the sharing of print resources due to COVID-19), transitioning to digital content because of the remote work environment or repurposing office space are all examples that support the reduction of print collections. As you clarify your objectives, consider setting up stakeholder conversations early in the process to ensure alignment on firm and practice group needs, confirm must-have titles and gain the support of firm leadership.
  • Collection and contract analysis. As you activate your cancellation plan, the next step is to review your current holdings and determine where cancellations and reductions can be made. This process includes reviewing your active titles, current contracts and any relevant department or firm policies. For example, the cancellation of office copies can prompt resistance from your attorneys, so your office copy policy will be instrumental in the phasing out of these print materials. As you build a case for cancellations and reductions, ground your recommendations in objective criteria that you can present and discuss with stakeholders.
  • Contract terms. Offline retention clauses and shortfall penalties can be obstacles to your print reduction and cancellation plan. To ensure you are not caught off guard, become reacquainted with these clauses and consider both long-term and short-term actions to carryout collection revisions. We are finding a wide range of vendor responses, from some that were already themselves planning to cancel print and previously pushed firms in that direction to one vendor that struggles to integrate its print vision and corporate message and therefore challenging any meaningful print cancellation. It is always easier to argue that you should not pay for something that you did not receive. Do not let vendor policy stop you from doing what is right for your firm. Approach the vendors strategically now to discuss the long-term relationship rather than wait to tie it up in a broader renewal negotiation.
  • Print to digital transitions. Are you looking to completely displace content or to transition access from print to digital format? While online coverage is expanding, not all titles have an exact digital counterpart. In preparation for cancellation, developing a content transition plan is important to ensure that practice groups feel supported during the print to digital transition. A content transition plan includes identifying alternative resources and providing points of access for titles that will no longer be available in your print collection.
  • Routing titles. If routing titles are being targeting for cancellation, it is important to keep in mind that there are incentives to maintaining print for some titles. For example, there might be a delay from the time content is distributed in print to when it appears on the online version. In some cases, the subscription might include a complementary print version with online access. In this case, cancelling the print will not lead to savings but it will reduce staff time to process, route and file materials.

By preparing a comprehensive cancellation strategy, you will be more equipped to ward off the ghost of print, while continuing to support your firm at the highest level.

Looking for more insight into how law firms are managing print in 2020? Register today for HBR’s Benchmarking + Legal Information Services Survey for Law Firms (BLISS). Share insights about what is happening at your firm, and receive access to an interactive benchmarking tool that will allow you to:

  • Benchmark data by firm type
  • Understand trends that impact the industry, and
  • Use data to support operational decisions, like print cancellations.

In case you are feeling inspired to prepare some campfire snacks, here are some recipes for some tasty treats! We hope that you found your time at Summer Camp for Law Firms valuable and insightful, and we will see you next year!